14th Fastest Growing Metro to Live

Jacksonville Among Least Expensive Cities to Live in FL

Spotlight on Northeast Florida as Region is Featured in Florida Trend

The January 2022 issue of state business and policy publication Florida Trend features an in-depth look at the positive momentum taking place in the seven-county Jacksonville region in its “Jacksonville & Northeast Florida” regional economic profile.

The 26-page section highlights the region’s transportation infrastructure, industries, health care, education and development, showing that the region’s growth is not just in the here and now, but sustainable for the future. Read more…

A Search For A New Food Service Headquarters Lands in Northeast Florida

Comarco Products, a long-standing leader in the food service industry, struggled with their ability to grow their operation from their headquarters in Camden, New Jersey. After years of dealing with remediation issues and burdening taxes, Comarco made the decision to relocate and ultimately settled on Palatka in Putnam County.

“It was a tough decision to leave our home of 32 years, but we knew we needed to move,” said Tom Hoversen, president of Comarco Products. “Our plant was showing signs of age and it was impossible to find a way to build out and modernize in the business climate we were in. I Googled “North Florida economic development” and started talking to people in my industry about new locations.”

After searching the Southeast for the ideal long-term location, Comarco settled on Florida since it gets most of its eggplants from Florida and the state had the available space and talent required to house their operations. The company leadership found the ideal site for their manufacturing plant in Palatka, located approximately 60 miles south of Jacksonville along the St. Johns River and known for its support of large-scale operations.

Comarco now runs their business in a 52,000-square-foot building and has 125 employees in the area. Their plan is to run three production lines out of the facility, which also serves as the company’s headquarters. They also expanded their operation with a freezer which can hold 1,200 pallets of frozen products along with automated equipment and new state-of-the-art conveyor lines.

The people and business community in Palatka have truly been welcoming and completely supportive,” added Hoversen. “We could have not asked for a better situation both professionally and personally. I can’t say enough good things about Palatka and we know that relocating to Northeast Florida was the right move.

#1 Best Metro for Digital Nomads

Tech Leader Strengthens Innovation Ecosystem in Northeast Florida

Coastal Cloud, a Salesforce consulting partner offering businesses a single cloud-based platform to automate processes, has seen exponential growth since its founding in Palm Coast in 2012. They were recently recognized by Inc. as one of the fastest growing companies in Florida and by Florida Trend as one of the “Best Companies to Work For in Florida.”

From the beginning, Coastal Cloud set a goal of creating a modern consulting firm focused on client outcomes while ensuring that their expert consultants and employees would enjoy a work/life balance. By 2017, they had more than 100 employees and are now approaching 300 employees throughout the United States, a quarter of which are based in Northeast Florida.

“We really want to break the model,” said Matt Hauck, director of marketing for Coastal Cloud. Tech consulting companies have traditionally been centered around ‘tech cities,’ but the spread of the tech ecosystem has made that model expensive and not great for employees.  Northeast Florida provides the perfect environment for us because we can foster talent locally and attract talent nationally.

Coastal Cloud hires across a variety of levels and disciplines and has a retention rate that is unsurpassed in the technology space. Their Flagler County headquarters acts as a hub for its operations and is a draw to talent from across the country.

“When there are no barriers to where you work, people choose to work in Florida.  The special thing about Northeast Florida is that it strikes a wonderful balance,” added Hauck. “It’s easy to live here, has a lower cost of living and creates a lifestyle that is matched with business growth opportunities.”

Coastal Cloud’s motto of “improving business and improving lives” can be seen in their connection to the community. They are developing the next generation of technology consultants by helping educators integrate technology into the curriculum through its project-based i3 Academy at Flagler Palm Coast High School and offering internships that can lead to career opportunities at the company. They also actively support Captains for Clean Water, Safe Schools for Alex and the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Science. Finally, they used their acumen to work with the federal, state and local governments on COVID testing and vaccinations for more than 1 million Floridians.

St. Johns County will deliver more than 100 affordable housing units by 2022

Several affordable housing projects planned by St. Johns County have quietly been progressing in recent months. And between two of the three complexes, residents could see more than 100 units of low-to-moderate income units ready for occupancy by 2022.

A project planned for State Road 207 and another in Hastings make use of more than $30 million the county received in federal disaster relief funds following Hurricane Matthew in 2016. County officials were able to fit the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant grant under the heading of storm-related improvements as both projects will include
hurricane shelter space.

One development, tentatively named San Marcos Heights, is slated for construction at 127 Adair Rd., along the north side of S.R. 207, not far from the intersection at Kings Estate Road.

The County has allocated $15 million toward the total estimated cost of $20.7 million; the balance will be paid by the developer, and in the end it will encompass 132 multi-family units on 15 acres of land.

According to the terms set down by county officials, a minimum of 51% of those units must meet HUD’s guidelines for iow-moderate Income, which will mean between $400 to $900 in monthly rent, depending on square footage, according to Joy Andrews, deputy county administrator for St. Johns County.

Andrews, who is leading the county’s effort to increase affordable housing, said the Planning and Zoning Agency recently voted to recommend rezoning the site to Planned Unit Development. Once final approvals are in place, construction is expected to begin soon after, with an anticipated completion date of the end of 2022.

The other project that will take advantage of county-received disaster relief funds is planned for the intersection of East Essex Road and Beaman Avenue in Hastings. The complex would include 80 multifamily rental units, with half of them at low-to-moderate rate and the other half at market value.

The county will cover about $15 million of the $23 million total cost, with the developer picking up the rest of the tab. Turnstone Development Corporation was selected as the development partner, and Andrews said she expected the County to finalize the contract within days.

The proposed project includes walking trails, landscaping and amenities such as laundry facilities and a social and family services center.
Construction is expected to begin in April 2021, with residential occupancy by November 2022.

For years, Home Again St. Johns, a nonprofit helping connect the county’s “economically homeless” to resources, has sought a way to add transitional housing to its site at 1850 S.R. 207.

Plans are in the works to finally make that happen, according to Andrews.

The Board of County Commissioners will review a land swap agreement for consideration at its Oct. 20 meeting. The deal involves the trade of the 13-plus acres owned by the local Salvation Army on which Home Again currently operates a drop-in center.

Andrews said the property has already been rezoned to allow for use as an affordable housing complex to serve disadvantaged and indigent members of the local population.

The Salvation Army has agreed to sell their property at S.R. 207 to the County for $1.15 million, plus the County-owned parcel located at 1425 Old Dixie Highway for a total value of $1.7 million. Additional funding will come from the County’s affordable housing trust fund.

Details about how the complex will be run— including whether Home Again will continue to be a presence at the site — are still being worked out, according to Andrews.

When asked who the target demographic for these county-planned affordable housing units was, Andrews said, depending on the monthly rental rates, tenants might include displaced elderly, young adults starting out, or struggling families.

“With unemployment rates up due to COVID, it could be a lot of people,” Andrews added. While attempts to bridge any of the gap in an economic disparity of housing options in the county are admirable to Bill Lazar, the director of the St. Johns Housing Partnership is also realistic.

“What’s ‘affordable’ for some, is not for some of our working class here,” Lazar said. That’s because even rental units that are 50% of the county’s median income are still out of reach for many, and in part that is due to the impact fees developers have to pay to get projects off the ground and then recoup in rental rates passed on to tenants, Lazar said.

If employers, especially those in the service industry, cannot start paying their staff more in wages they will be hard pressed to fill certain skilled positions because those employees will not want to commute out of county if they cannot afford to live in St. Johns.

Lazar also said that if rents continue to remain high, those who want to save up for their first home will not be able to.

By Colleen Michele Jones, St. Augustine Record, Sept. 26, 2020

Republican National Convention Showcases Jacksonville’s “Open For Business” Mentality

Preparations are underway in the Jacksonville region for the 2020 Republican National Convention. Jacksonville was selected to host the celebratory aspects of the convention, highlighted by President Donald Trump’s acceptance of the party’s nomination in Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

The convention is estimated to have an economic impact of $100 million, but it will show value to the region long after the convention is gone. Tens of thousands of people from across the country will not only have the opportunity to experience Northeast Florida’s quality of life, business-friendly environment and talent-rich workforce but see the Jacksonville region as a viable destination for business growth and expansion.

The RNC mentioned Jacksonville’s strong interest in hosting the convention and willingness to support an event of this scale as key determinants in their selection process. Jacksonville was the first city to host a major sporting event since the start of the pandemic – UFC 249 in May – which brought to the forefront the region’s ability to move quickly and support high impact events.

With a seven-county region and an infrastructure able to support the influx of visitors, Jacksonville is well suited to play host to one of the key events on this year’s political calendar. To date, city officials have secured more than 10,000 hotel rooms across the Jacksonville metropolitan area and are coordinating with lodging, event and entertainment properties throughout Northeast Florida.

Even with the influx of people to the region for the event, Jacksonville is prepared to provide a safe environment for both visitors and convention participants. As one of the first areas in the country to open back up safely, Jacksonville is well on pace in its return to normal.

The selection of Jacksonville as a host city for the Republican National Convention shows that Jacksonville is open for business and dedicated to helping organizations of all shapes and sizes move forward.

JAXUSA Launches New Video Targeting Business Expansion

Today, JAXUSA Partnership unveiled a new video to showcase the seven-county region’s appeal for business development, job creation and investment to national and international C-Suite executives, business decision-makers and site consultants. It highlights the region’s five target industries, benefits of doing business, education, low cost of living, cities and towns, infrastructure and more that give credence to why Northeast Florida is one of the fastest growing regions in the country.

The 2 ½ minute video also places heavy emphasis on the waterways and the people that contribute to region’s success. The current and future workforce is featured enjoying the work-life balance, advancement opportunities and quality of life that makes the region home.  For these reasons and so many others, the region is growing, claiming the top spot in the Emsi Talent Attraction Scorecard and seeing population growth at a faster rate than the U.S. average.

Produced by Kennetic Productions, the video connects the message through an original poem written and performed by Jacksonville artist Roderick Borisade.



Regional Opportunity Zones Offer Abundance of Economic Benefits

Designed to spur economic development and job creation, Opportunity Zones are valuable investment tools for private investors as they provide tax incentives on new development opportunities and strengthen local areas with an influx of capital dollars and investment.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 established the ability for zones to be created across the country to incite private development by deferring certain taxes, most notably, the capital gains tax. Designation of Opportunity Zones is based on several factors including an analysis of poverty rates, population, unemployment rates and other economic indicators.

There are more than 30 designated Opportunity Zones throughout the region providing many real estate, commercial and business development opportunities for investors. To showcase the region’s investment potential of Opportunity Zones, JAXUSA Partnership is hosting an Opportunity Zones Conference and Marketplace on Aug. 22 at Florida State College of Jacksonville.

National economic development and community experts from Madison Street Strategies and Carras Community Investment, Inc. will highlight the economic benefits of Opportunity Zones and the ability to reinvest unrealized capital gains in Opportunity Funds. Local regional experts will highlight real estate and business development opportunities found throughout the region.

Other featured conference speakers include representatives from T. Brown Consulting Group, Jessie Ball duPont Fund, Greenberg Traurig, City of Jacksonville Mayor’s Office, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, GrayRobinson, Hospitality Ventures Management and the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration, where they will be discussing other important aspects of Opportunity Zones.